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Post Familiar problem plagues Hoop Dawgs in loss

Wednesday November 15, 2006

I know it’s still early in the basketball season – off the radar even for most Georgia fans – but last night’s loss to Western Kentucky was pretty disheartening. It’s not that the Hilltoppers are a bad team; they are the favorites in their conference. The disappointing part is that one of Georgia’s biggest issues last season seems to still be a problem.

Last year after a loss to Nevada, I wrote that Georgia’s biggest problem was the lack of a go-to guy. They certainly had some talent, but there was no one on the team they could trust with the ball when the game was on the line. Unfortunately, that same problem persists this year – at least for now. Billy Humphrey disappeared in the second half. Mike Mercer was likewise streaky. Terrance Woodbury, touted as a hidden gem, was nowhere. Veterans Stukes and Gaines were on the bench for much of the stretch run. Post play was better but still in no position to take over the game.

Western Kentucky did have such a player. Courtney Lee was the best guy on the court last night, and, as Fazekas for Nevada last year, provided a very good contrast and example of what it means to have a player who can be depended upon to make significant plays at the end of a game. A play in the final minute illustrated that perfectly. With the shot clock running down and Georgia still ahead by a point, Billy Humphrey tried to set up an isolation play and held the ball almost at halfcourt until the final seconds of the shot clock. Lee defended him perfectly, forced Humphrey to attempt a shot from at least 22 feet, and even blocked the shot enabling Western Kentucky to take their first lead. Forget the 20+ points – that’s a clutch playmaker.

Until Albert Jackson or even Takais Brown can show otherwise, this is still a guard-driven team, and they will continue to rise and fall with the inconsistencies of those guards. You can add depth, and you can turn the calendar and add another year of experience, but none of that matters if you don’t know who should have the ball with a minute left.

While Western Kentucky got big plays from their go-to guy, Georgia choked up, committed consecutive turnovers, took poor shots, and finished the game on the wrong side of a 15-2 run. How unfortunate on a night when the team paid tribute to the spirit of Kevin Brophy. This isn’t a year or two ago where we could hang our hat on the occasional nice play and pat the team on the head for a nice effort when we knew they were outmanned. This team led the entire game, held a double-digit lead with around five minutes left, and showed no urgency or response to the challenge that Western Kentucky gave them at the end.

Georgia expects, or at least hopes, to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth this year. With the challenges of the SEC schedule, there is so little room for error in the nonconference schedule. If the season comes down to the Bulldogs trying to make the case for the postseason with 17 or 18 wins, this one is going to really hurt.

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